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New law enforcement body camera bill sparks debate

Posted at 7:46 PM, Jan 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-22 00:16:55-05

TULSA, Okla. — A new law for law enforcement could be on the way.

Oklahoma House Representative Regina Goodwin has filed House Bill 3515 which, if voted into law, will allow law enforcement to be charged with "obstruction of justice," a misdemeanor charge, if they have a body camera but don’t use it whenever they interact with the public.

“It has nothing to do with someone who accidentally leaves their camera at the office or forgets to turn it on again," said Goodwin. "This has to do with the intent to obstruct justice."

The new bill would also make it a criminal offense for law enforcement to tamper with their recording equipment.

Tulsa Police say officers have fervently used body cameras and body camera policy used by other agencies since they started using the devices.

"Now that we have those cameras, nothing has changed. There doesn’t need to be an additional bill for criminal intent, because that’s already there. That mechanism is already there for law enforcement," said Lieutenant Shane Tuell with the Tulsa Police Department. “If an officer is found to be in violation of that policy, than they are subject to discipline."

Goodwin says the discipline in place does not hold officers accountable enough.

"The policies that currently are on record now say they may have consequences. This shouldn’t be a ‘may’ situation," said Goodwin. "This bill provides a consequence. It doesn’t leave it up to the police to police themselves, and it says if you are in violation, these are the consequences."

Tuell says those consequences in the bill are redundant with their discipline already in place and frankly, too harsh.

"We want to do things that encourage law enforcement to go toward wearing body cameras, because of the transparency and because of the public trust. We want to encourage more agencies to use them. So I believe this is more of a discouragement," said Tuell. “When you put a law in place that says you can now be criminally liable, because of that little object you attach to your chest, you’re going to make agencies want to shy away from it."

The Oklahoma House is back in session on Feb. 3, where House Bill 3515 is set to have its first reading.

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